Thursday, April 14, 2016

Getting the Best Performance from Your Collaborative Pianist - Part I

It's that time of year when students are preparing for end-of-the-semester juries and other performances. That means collaborative pianists across the country are getting inundated with requests to play for these exams. Having served as a collaborative pianist for many years, I have realized that some "obvious" things about the needs of the collaborative pianist are not always so clear in the minds of students. Here are some tips that will set you up to get the best possible performance from your collaborative partner.

Provide copies of the music as soon as possible. Musicians sometimes think they are doing their pianist a great service by holding onto the score until the performance date gets closer. After all, the accompaniment "doesn't look too hard." Here's the first thing to understand -- just because the accompaniment is not filled with running sixteenth notes does not mean there are not passages that need to be worked out. Get the music to your pianist as soon as you can; it will then be their decision to determine when they need to begin working on it.

While we're on the topic of providing copies of the score, here are a few specifics to consider:
  • Originals are always preferable - especially intricate instrumental scores.
  • If you are providing a copy, make sure you know the pianist's preferred format. With more and more performers using digital scores now, it is not always necessary to hand the pianist a paper copy. If you can save a tree -- and save your pianist a step in their preparation -- that's always a good thing! Digital copies also cut down on the clutter of scores that inevitably pile up on the piano lid -- and possibly get forgotten there.
  • When making copies or scans, give us the clearest version possible. I appreciate knowing that you have done a lot of advance work on the piece and have made notes in your score. However, all of those handwritten comments can become very distracting and make the music difficult to read. And in case you're wondering -- YES! It does matter that the copies are straight and that none of the notes (yours or mine!) are missing from the copy.
Include as many specifics as you can from the beginning. When your pianist receives your music, it is added to an enormous stack of other repertoire they are learning. Including details about dates of performance(s) and coachings ensures that the part will be learned in a timely manner without a last minute dash on our part. Musically, it is nice to be told projected metronome markings as well as any recordings from which you are working.

Clarify your pianist's compensation policy. If your school covers accompanist fees in your tuition, you may not have to worry about this point. (Just recognize that "extra" performances are not  included in the tuition-covered fee and payment will be expected as well as deserved.) If your school does not pay a pianist to collaborate with you, you will be responsible for the expense. Does the pianist charge a standard rate for performances or do they use an hourly rate? Is there a monthly rate that includes playing for a weekly lesson as well as performance labs? If there is a set fee, how many rehearsals are included? When is payment expected? One common payment approach is that all payments must be made prior to the final performance. If the money is not in the pianist's hand, it is very likely that they will not play! (After all, this is not a volunteer service.)

Schedule rehearsals in advance and make sure you arrive on time. By scheduling in advance, you are assuring that your collaborative partner is able to build their schedule as needed to give you the attention you deserve. If you begin to wedge rehearsals into any available open spot in their schedule, your pianist may accommodate your request but you won't necessarily get the best results. Hands and minds need to rest, so pianists try to avoid stacking multiple rehearsals when possible. (Here's the simple truth:  happy hands = happy pianist = better performance.)

Treat your scheduled rehearsals like any other professional appointment. Arrive to the location early with your instrument assembled, warmed up and ready to go. Expect the rehearsal to begin on time and end on time. (After all, you're not the only performer needing to rehearse with this pianist.) Things happen and needing to cancel the occasional rehearsal is inevitable. When these circumstances arise, give as much notice as possible -- at least 24 hours is greatly appreciated by the pianist! While we understand that last minute emergencies happen, that should not be the norm. If you miss a rehearsal without ample notification, expect to pay for the session and not be offered a make-up.

Next week, I'll share my thoughts on the rehearsal process as well as stage decorum. Here's hoping you have a very productive interaction with the collaborative pianists in your life this week.